A Secret Garden in Hampstead: London Underground in Bloom

Someone asked me recently: “What’s the best thing about living in London?”

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After much deliberation, running through the multitude of possibilities, I narrowed it down to: “The little things that engage your senses every day and the unexpected moments.”

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On Saturday I came across both of these.

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I journeyed up to Hampstead to meet Carolina for the best crepes in London at La Creperie de Hampstead.

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I arrived a few minutes early and perched myself against the railing outside Hampstead station.

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Back in 2007, I worked in Hampstead for about a year, in a small gallery up the hill toward the Heath.

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I was lost in thought, wondering if the gallery is still there, thinking about rolling Easter eggs down Parliament Hill, a recent goodbye picnic for some friends who are now in China making their way overland to Istanbul over the next three months.

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I thought back to 2008 when I used to come every Wednesday night to Hampstead with a group of friends to watch open mic nights at The Flask around the corner.

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Then I looked up when I heard a girl saying, “Ugh, she’s still all the way in South Kensington (my station). That’s sooo far away.”

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I glanced around for Carolina and a poster caught my eye.

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It said there was a garden open day.

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A secret garden!

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I followed the arrow to a narrow alleyway that lined the back of the station and opened into a courtyard.

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It was a beautiful little oasis of green, with flowers and plants coming out of every available surface, lining the walls, snaking up the steps, on the roof of the garden shed and in TFL tea cups on small brick ledges.

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There were aubergines and plums, a banana plant, tomatoes, herbs and plenty of pretty flowers.

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Smiling TFL staff handed out free cupcakes and took donations for Cancer Research.

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The garden was designed by a few members of staff in their free time.

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It is part of the Underground in Bloom competition which is an annual event that many different tube stations participate in.

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This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Tube so “150” is incorporated in various elements of the garden.

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I’m not sure if they will have another open day, but it sounds like the results of the competition will be announced on September 11, so you never know.

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It looks like 68 stations are participating in the competition, so yours might be too!

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Hampstead won first place in the fruits and veg category last year and was highly commended in the best overall garden award category.

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I climbed up to the top of a winding metal staircase and the garden next door was also stunning.

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There was a cat on the roof and one running into the house as well.

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There was a bit of a traffic jam going up and down the spiral staircase when a girl decided she was terrified of heights and decided to go back down to the bottom.

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But it was worth the wait to get to the top.

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The garden had all sorts of little nooks and crannies.

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Barely any space left unplanted.

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If only it were around all year, open to the public.

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That goes for all of these secret garden spaces that are created temporarily.

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And green space generally.

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More of this London. I like it.

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Jorge and I visited NYC’s High Line for the first time last month.

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What a brilliant project.

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It really is a little oasis from the fast pace of city life below and I’d love to see something similar built / designed in London.

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A High Line in London would be pretty fabulous, don’t you think? In the meantime, I am happy to discover secret gardens!

A Goodbye Brunch at Bumpkin’s New Secret Garden Restaurant in Chelsea

I remember the day Leslie told me she was moving to London to complete a master’s program in Greenwich. It wasn’t that long ago.

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Time flies though, and this city is one of transience and I’ve seen countless friends move here and then abroad and sometimes back again, like I did myself a few years ago.

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So to say goodbye and celebrate the short time we did get to spend with Leslie in London, we met with Carolina at Bumpkin’s  brand new “secret garden” restaurant housed in a converted Georgian townhouse in Chelsea. It was a beautiful blue and sunny summer day, perfect for a bit of outdoor eating and some seasonal British food.

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The “secret garden” is not so much a lush green leafy garden as an outdoor patio area where you can eat away from the noise and traffic of Sydney street. The walls are painted with leaves and there’s a handful of plants hanging around.

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It overlooks the Chelsea Gardener in case you’d like to go shopping for your own garden, if you’re lucky enough to have on in London, when you finish. Avoid the bright white table in the corner if it’s sunny. It is blinding!

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We went early so we could enjoy a Saturday brunch at noon. Mmm, breakfast food! I ordered scrambled eggs and smoked salmon on toast.

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Carolina went for the same, but substituted the salmon for bacon.

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And Leslie went for one last traditional English breakfast (baked beans on the side) before heading back to life in Tennessee.

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We went for teas and lattes with our brunch, but the drinks looked pretty delicious, especially the cherry lemonade and cherry iced tea. I’m going back for one of those! Or the refreshing sounding “English Garden” – gin shaken with cucumber, elderflower, mint, apple, lemon juice and a hint of soda water.

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Last time I went to Bumpkin – the one in South Kensington – was with Jorge for dinner. If you’re there for dinner and mulling over the menu, I would highly recommend the Chargrilled cod served with a heritage beetroot, tomato & fennel salad. Yum!

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Inside was typical cosy Bumpkin with green walls, country home style decor, antique mirrors, heavy wooden tables and herbs in white pots.

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While there were plenty of people outside soaking up the sun on a rare Summer day, the inside was, as you would expect, completely empty!

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Though I think the secret “garden” marketing is slightly over rated, the food was definitely tasty, the atmosphere was welcoming and the company and conversation were, of course, fabulous.

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Here’s to British sunshine for months to come.